Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, February 3, 2017

Dear {Insert First Name} Re: Controlling your email and social networking

The days of having a physical mailbox filled with a huge pile of paper seem to be over. There are even some days when we don't receive any mail at all. The term "junk mail" was coined to refer to the piles of unsolicited paper mail we used to receive. It seems that the earliest use of the term dates to around 1954. See Online Etymology Dictionary: Junk. The concept of junk mail is also closely allied with the idea that "one man's trash is another man's treasure." See English Language and Usage: Origin of "one man's trash is another man's treasure." It is readily apparent that we use the word "junk" to refer only to those things that are not important to us personally. The term has lately been expanded to include unsolicited and unwanted electronic communications.

However, the term "junk email" never received much traction. Instead, the term "spam" has dominated this particular portion of the etymological universe. The word "spam" is apparently an artificial contraction from sp(liced h)am that originated in the 1930s. The term was apparently first used to refer to unwanted electronic transmissions or communications in 1993 and probably originated from a Monty Python's Flying Circus skit first aired in 1970. Just in case you missed the episode, here it is.

Spam Spam Spam Spam Spammity spam

To paraphrase a statement I once read (and cannot now find again):
If you want to avoid spam, don't buy a computer and if you do buy a computer, don't turn it on but if you do turn it on, do not connect it to the internet. 
Does this have anything to do with genealogy? Well, it is a real stretch, but some of us do sit in front of computers all day and write and in my case, I get as many as 100+ email messages a day. I just checked and even though I opened or deleted all of the mail in my inbox late last night, this morning I have ten new messages and if today is like yesterday, I will end up with more messages than I can open and answer in many hours of work.

Ironically, on the website, I am most highly endorsed for my skills with Social Media. Now, am I ever going to address the topic in the title to this post? The answer is really complicated.

First of all, social networking is just that: social. The easiest way to control anything social is to be antisocial. So, there are those who opt out of social networking altogether. If that is your solution, then you are probably not reading this post. But the real way of handling both an abundance of email and getting caught up in social networking is to take a hard line attitude towards both. In both cases, I use intermediary programs that allow me to monitor both my email and any social networking without actually reading or even looking at most of what is posted or sent.

For example, for my blog reading I currently use For example, I just checked and since late yesterday, I have 215 new blog posts to review. But each of these posts is categorized by the program and arranged in a short, headline-type list which I can read through in a matter of minutes and select to view only those posts that interest me directly.  This type of program is called a news aggregator or reader program. I use a similar program for my email from Google called Inbox. It isn't perfect, but it organizes everything in a headline fashion by subject and allows me to delete any spam email without even opening the messages. By the way, we still do this with physical junk mail. We have a waste paper basket where we open the mail and any unwanted items go right in the trash.

With social networking programs such as Facebook and Twitter, I use filters. I get notifications from email rather than constantly checking the programs to see any new posts.

I do get distracted now and again, but by using filtering tools and avoiding mindless scrolling through social networking programs, I get quite a bit done every day.


  1. James, please correct my spelling of Monty in the other comment.

    1. Correction noted, but I can't edit the comments, I can only delete them.